Formal professional development as perceived by teachers in different professional life periods


Source: Professional Development in Education, 46:5, 833-844

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The present study was conducted in light of the implementation of the Ofek Hadash reform in the Israeli education system, which changed government policy towards teachers’ professional learning and development.
The study’s purpose was to examine how teachers in different phases of their professional life perceive the professional development programs they have experienced under Ofek Hadash.
The specific research questions were:
(1) How do teachers in different professional development periods interpret the concept of professional development?
(2) What are teachers’ experiences with and perceptions of professional development learning under Ofek Hadash?

Materials and methods

Study design
In this qualitative study, the authors sought to examine and interpret a social phenomenon – namely, teacher professional learning and development – as it is perceived, described, and explained by in-service teachers who are directly engaged in it (Patton 1990, Creswell 1998, Frey et al. 1999, Bogdan and Biklen 2007).
Semi-structured interviews were conducted to explore the subjective attitudes of teachers toward professional learning and development, and the significance they attach to it .
In each interview, free expression was encouraged to uncover as wide a range of attitudes as possible (Fetterman 2005), with the interviewer and interviewees exploring the subjects together through open and in-depth dialogue (Seidman 2013).

Participants were enrolled from 14 primary schools located in the Northern District of Israel. A
total of 45 in-service teachers (41 women, four men) were selected to take part.
The selection criteria were that the teacher was in one of three professional development periods defined by Ofek Hadash: entry-level (holding an Ofek Hadash rank of 1 or 2), advanced (holding an Ofek Hadash rank of 3–6), or expert (holding the highest Ofek Hadash ranks of 7–9).
Teachers were enrolled in the research group appropriate to their rank, with enrolment closed for each group upon reaching n = 15 teachers.

Research tool
The research tool was a semi-structured individual in-depth interview (Johnson 2001) developed by the authors.
Data obtained through the first six interview questions were utilized to answer the current research questions.
Interview questions 1–6 asked participants what they considered professional development to be and in what professional development courses they had taken part under Ofek Hadash, with in depth discussion focusing on their experiences in and perceptions of those courses.
Each interview was conducted in Hebrew and lasted about an hour.
Data collection was conducted over a three month period during 2016, and all interviews were recorded and subsequently transcribed before being translated into English.

Findings and discussion
Teachers in different professional life phases were interviewed because teachers’ commitment to learn is known to vary over the course of their professional lives (Day and Gu 2007).
The professional development courses available in Israel to teachers in the early life phase (entry-level) focus on classroom competence.
However, the current findings suggest that teachers in this phase overwhelmingly desire to pursue professional learning goals that extend beyond the current focus on classroom competence.
These findings are consistent with Day and Gu (2007) conclusion that, for teachers in the early life phase, the learning and development activities most likely to be effective are those geared toward the teacher building a sense of professional identity and classroom competence, with professional development to enhance role effectiveness also valuable for those at the higher end of the experience range within this group.
The current study found that teachers in the advanced group sought teaching-related courses, with only one mentioning a desire for learning focussed on management role development.
This finding is in contrast to that of Day and Gu (2007), who found that during the middle professional life phase, teachers begin to differentiate between those aiming for management roles and those seeking to remain as classroom teachers, such that their professional learning needs to be similarly differentiated to improve their effectiveness in the target roles.
The expert teachers in the current study did not state a clearly preferred learning goal.
Several teachers in this group considered the courses offered to be irrelevant, stated that they had learned nothing from them, and noted that it is difficult to identify whether a course is relevant from the course summary provided prior to enrolment.
Given this, it is not surprising that they also objected to the courses being compulsory.
These findings are consistent Day and Gu (2007) both that veteran teachers have different needs than their less experienced colleagues and that many veteran teachers are not interested in professional development, such that compulsory professional development (as in Israel) is not likely to be effective for them.
The authors’ findings suggest that consideration should be given to removing the compulsory nature from formal professional development for veteran teachers in Israel.
Veteran teachers who wish to continue their professional learning should be offered a mix of courses that take into account their considerable curricular and teaching knowledge while enabling them to update it, and that enable them to take courses outside their disciplinary area.
Ofek Hadash offers a range of types of courses, from the experiential to frontal learning, from peer-learning to lectures.
Entry-level and advanced teachers expressed a preference to learn in workshops, with entry-level teachers also seeking to learn through experience.
Expert teachers showed no strong preference for a specific learning mode.
The inclination toward workshops may align better than other learning modes (such as experience, peer interactions, and degree-oriented studies) with teachers’ preferences for learning by meeting with colleagues to discuss issues and concerns and learning from outside speakers (Day 2017).
The advanced and expert groups contributed more critiques of professional development under Ofek Hadash than their entry level colleagues (many of whom may not have been teaching prior to the reform), and their critiques had a different focus.
In addition to the already discussed issue of compulsion and relevance, the leading issues raised by advanced and expert teachers were course disorganization, excessive course requirements, and limited course variety.
Only advanced teachers expressed a need for the education system to schedule time for their learning.
Teachers increasingly take on additional roles in the school during the middle phase of their professional lives, such that is not surprising that lack of time would most affect them.
The current study also found areas of shared perceptions across all professional life phases.
Importantly, teachers in all professional life phases equate professional development with learning, indicating that their understanding of the term is consistent with that of Kelchtermans (2004) and of Day and Gu (2007).
In all groups, teachers sought to increase their range of action as teachers through their learning, with teachers linking this to experiencing learning they could apply in their schools and classroom.
Learning related to general teaching topics and theoretical (as opposed to applicable) learning emerged as far less desirable from the teachers’ perspectives.
The disinclination to learn general topics is a potential challenge for the education system, as such courses are often used to introduce change into the system, for example, to teach the skills needed to introduce ICT into teaching practice or to bring about the effective inclusion and education of children with special needs in mainstream classrooms.
Teacher preference to acquire applicable knowledge and tools suggests that teachers may see greater overlap between their own learning goals and general material, and thus consider the latter more applicable, if it is presented in a discipline-specific context.
The current research involved a relatively small number of teachers.
Nevertheless, it is the first study in Israel to examine teachers’ perspectives on professional learning and development across all professional life phases.
The finding that professional learning is considered important by teachers in all professional life phases, but less ubiquitously among teachers in their third and fourth decades of teaching, mirrors findings from extensive English research (Day and Gu 2007, Day et al. 2006).
This suggests that the mapping of professional development content to the needs of teachers in different life phases is important independently of cultural or national context.

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Updated: Apr. 20, 2021


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